Flying with Empty Fuel Containers
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Notes collected from the Climber.Org Gear Forum:

This information was current as of early 2005, but RJ says I am still worried that the regulations may change.


Suggestion from R.J. Secor to
fill containers with vinegar:

I have only flown twice with a stove and a fuel bottle since 11 Sep 01. Both times, I filled the Svea and the bottle with vinegar and placed a note around the stove with a rubber band stating "THIS STOVE IS FILLED WITH VINEGAR," with a similar note wrapped around the 0.3 liter Sigg fuel bottle. I then put the stove in a pot, wrapped in a plastic bag, and put it near the top of the pack with the fuel bottle nearby, with a note stating: "THE STOVE IS FILLED WITH VINEGAR" and I also include a hard copy of the Empty Packages FAA notice that is attached, with section 2, part iii highlighted. And I carry another copy of this notice on my person so I can show it to whoever might make a fuss.

To be more specific, I am referring to liquid-fuel stoves with a permanently attached tank. One person asked me how to put vinegar into a butane cartridge!

I also pack one or two, empty, cleaned 1 liter lexan Pepsi cola bottle(s) to hold the fuel that I purchase at my destination. Scofflaw that I am, I burn automotive unleaded fuel in my stove, and the mouth of the Pepsi bottle is wide enough to accept an unleaded nozzle. On my return flight I discard the Pepsi bottles, but fill the stove and fuel bottle with vinegar.

On both flights, no one made a fuss, in fact, no one ever asked me if I had a stove in my luggage. But upon arrival on one of these flights, I found a note from the TSA stating that my luggage had been inspected. And the stove and fuel bottle were still there, filled with vinegar.

When I am ready to start cooking, I simply pour out the vinegar, fill the stove with gasoline, and light it. Having vinegar in the tank doesn't affect the subsequent performance of the stove. According to the Classic Camp Stoves web site, it may be good for the tank!

I have only done this twice, but I never noticed any pitting of the small aluminum Sigg bottle nor in the brass tank of the Svea. I suppose that if one does a lot of air travel it may be worthwhile investing in an anodized bottle. The Sigg bottles are commonly used by European hikers/climbers as canteens, so labeling a Sigg/MSR fuel bottle as "Water Bottle" would not be considered unusual. But to my American eyes, it was unusual to see those British climbers drinking from their Sigg bottles in Pakistan, as it was in Vertical Limit.

The FAA has had a booth at Outdoor Retailer shows (even at shows before 11 Sep 01) to encourage stove manufacturers (and others) to put warnings in their literature that used stoves and fuel are hazardous cargo. At one show I asked about vinegar. The FAA people looked at me and it seemed as if a light bulb appeared above their heads. At the next show I asked them about filling stoves with an inert substance. The fellow manning the booth said, "Vinegar."

Later, he emailed me a Word document, which is available below.

It is rewarding to know that my work has brought so much happiness to the world.

- R.J. Secor


Memo from the FAA about
TRANSPORTATION OF "EMPTY PACKAGINGS":

FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION
TRANSPORTATION OF "EMPTY PACKAGINGS"
CODE OF FEDERAL REGULATIONS
TITLE 49 PART 173.29 "EMPTY PACKAGINGS"

(a) General. Except as otherwise provided in this section, an empty packaging 
containing only the residue of a hazardous material shall be offered for 
transportation and transported in the same manner as when it previously 
contained a greater quantity of that material.

(b) Notwithstanding the requirements of paragraph (a) of this section, an 
empty packaging is NOT subject to any other requirements of this subchapter 
if it conforms to the following provisions:

1. Any hazardous materials shipping name and identification number markings, 
any hazard warning labels or placards, and any other markings indicating that 
the material is hazardous are removed, obliterated, or securely covered in 
transportation.
2. The packaging-
(i) Is unused;
(ii) Is sufficiently cleaned of residue and purged of vapors to remove any 
potential hazard;
(iii) Is refilled with a material, which is not hazardous to such an extent 
that any residue remaining in the packaging no longer poses a hazard.

YOU can help make our skies a safer place to be and help protect buyers of 
your products from stiff civil and/or criminal sanctions by alerting them 
through your advertising and product markings. You can really make a difference.
Warnings to buyers not to take forbidden items such as:

"DO NOT PACK IN AIRLINE LUGGAGE"
"BUY ON SITE, AVOID A FLIGHT"
"EMPTY THIS CONTAINER COMPLETELY AND PURGE OF ALL LIQUID AND VAPORS"

Hikers, campers, hunters, fisherman are FLYING to and from their adventure 
destinations in increasing numbers each year. Outdoor gear that is presented 
to air carriers as checked or carry-on luggage are suspicious items and will 
receive increased scrutiny. This increased scrutiny is a result of many 
incidents caused by hazardous materials being illegally packed in luggage 
that leak flammable liquid fuel, or catch fire due to matches, flammable 
gas torches, flare guns, fireworks, flammable compressed gases, etc.

Having to remove items from luggage, or being cited with a hazardous materials 
violation and large civil penalty, can ruin a much-anticipated adventure.

FOR MORE INFORMATION VISIT THE HAZARDOUS MATERIALS WEBSITES at 
     http://hazmat.dot.gov or http://cas.faa.gov
or call the DOT Hazardous Materials Information center at 800-487-4922.


Concerns from Doug Cook about
compatibility of vinegar and aluminum/plastic:

Vinegar is a weak organic acid. The compatibility of vinegar with aluminum, copper alloys, plastics, and rubber and other elastomeric materials that may be in a stove was difficult to research, but this email thread made me curious. I work as a materials engineer for Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co. in Denver, so I have access to a lot of technical resources and data.

The bottom line appears to be that diluted vinegar is a good cleaner for aluminum and copper materials, and removes stains and surface corrosion. However, for continuous immersion exposure to vinegar, aluminum and high zinc brass materials are not recommended. It wasn't clear if the corrosion was pitting or general attack, but it's not important since acidic vinegar will cause material thickness loss - not good especially for applications like a pressurized fuel bottle.

Many plastic and elastomeric materials are rated as moderate to severe degradation or completely unsatisfactory for immersion exposure to vinegar. Others are highly compatible. Degradation is usually a softening or blistering of the material. Brief exposure to vinegar will probably not have a negative effect.

For my peace of mind, I'll avoid exposing my stove components to vinegar. Most likely, several 24-48 hour immersions will only provide a cleaning effect. But, not knowing what materials the various parts of my MSR stove is produced from, it's probably one less thing to go wrong on a trip to simply avoid a potential problem. Swelling or blistering of an o-ring could cause a stove to not operate, or possibly cause a fuel leak that could ignite or explode.

Stoves can be completely dried which will leave it essentially odor free (rinse it with white gas if necessary to remove stronger fuel odors). From the discussion on this thread, the most common sense approach seems to be to buy fuel bottles at your destination when you purchase fuel - assuming bottles are available. In Mexico, we found "white gas" only available in the small towns at the local paint store, sold in their plastic container. No fuel bottles to fit a stove were available. Or, put water in the fuel bottle(s) and check it with luggage (only partially filled with water should work) or carry it on-board as a drink. Making a sleeve to cover some of the bright red paint and labeling it as water or a drink would draw less attention. The sleeve could then be slipped off at your destination.

The silver colored aluminum on the inside of MSR and other fuel bottles is unprotected, bare aluminum and although very resistant to fuels, it is easily pitted by water spots and puddles left to dry on the surface - especially if there is any salt in the water. Rinse with water and dry the bottle and the aluminum will not corrode. Rinsing a bottle with fuel after pouring out water works well to remove the water and accelerates drying (just don't attempt to accelerate drying with an open flame!).

- Doug Cook


Suggestion from Bill Lhotta about
cleaning without solvents:

According to the Classic Camp Stoves web site, it may be good for the tank!

I would be wary about what the acid in the vinegar might do to the aluminum MSR fuel bottles. One specific post I found on the forum in the link above talks about excessive pitting on the aluminum from the vinegar. I haven't tried vinegar, but I did try to rinse out one of my MSR bottles with water once and it pitted the inside of my bottle noticeably within a few days. Needless to say I don't rinse them out any more!

What I do now is take my ski boot drier which has a long hose that pumps non-heated air through it and place this inside my bottle and let it run for a day. This removes all noticeable odor of white gas which is what I use most of the time. I then type up a label on the computer that says "WATER BOTTLE" and apply it to my MSR fuel bottles. It may not be too hard to believe as if you remember all the folks in Vertical Limit were drinking out of MSR type bottles <grin>

- Bill Lhotta